Although not many know it, and most tourists who visit southern Italy go to spend time in Naples, the larger neighbor, the resort town of Sorrento has a lot to offer. It is a small town, with barely 20,000 inhabitants, which is a center of attraction for vacationers from all over Italy, Europe, and the rest of the world. The town is located to the south of the beautiful Gulf of Naples, so its starting point is already very good. In addition, it is near internationally renowned tourist destinations such as the Amalfi coast, Pompeii, the Vesuvius volcano, and many more.
While most of those who come to Sorrento do so in order to have fun, it also has a lot to do with those who don’t like lounging on the beach. Besides its beautiful coastline, Sorrento is characterized by hiking trails, historical sites, handmade workshops of ceramics, wood, and embroidery, and endless romance.
Piazza Tasso (Photo: © Berthold Werner / CC BY-SA 3.0)
Historic Sites and Heritage Sites in Sorrento
Sorrento has been in its current location for about 2,600 years when the fertile land around the Vesuvius volcano attracted settlers from all around the bay. It has an excellent natural defense, which made it a strategic place that many tried to gain control over. Today you can admire its magical alleys, the ancient marina, the Roman villas, and its wall, which protected the only weak point of the city that is not protected by natural means.
The Ancient Center (Centro Storico)
Like every ancient city and town in Italy (and it’s hard to find a place in Italy that isn’t ancient), Sorrento also has its historic center, which is characterized by side alleys, cafes that look like they’ve been here forever, and old Italian men and women chatting in fast Neapolitan. This is a crowded and relatively noisy area, certainly compared to the rest of Sorrento which is more sleepy and relaxed. Here you will find a developed tourist infrastructure, including dozens of bars and restaurants, souvenir shops, and many more stands.
There is not much need for guidance here. Just choose an entrance, and start walking around the streets. It is recommended to enter the many workshops on site, where you can admire (and also purchase, if you wish) handmade works of wood, ceramics, and delicate embroidery. Just pay attention to the streets. Even though it is a pedestrian street where only pedestrians are supposed to be, it is not uncommon to see a driver from Sorrento trying to make a way for him with his vehicle among the tourists.
Museo Correale di Terranova
For lovers of art, certainly, that of the 17th and 18th centuries, this museum, located in the center of Sorrento, is a real paradise. The museum is located in a citrus grove, in a villa that still belongs to the descendants of the Curiale family, an Italian aristocratic family from southern Italy that has several villas in the Sorrento and Naples area. This villa includes works of art that were brought to it from the family’s many villas in the area, and it was opened to the public as a museum at the beginning of the last century, in 1924.
The villa, which has four floors and 24 rooms, is full of paintings by the great artists of the time, fine ceramics, beautiful woodwork, and a wide variety of other exhibits. All these items are arranged in sections, within which they are again arranged in chronological order. Among the items are those that were brought from different places in Italy, and those that came from more distant places (such as London and St. Petersburg). Defined as the best provincial museum in Italy, this museum will definitely give you an aristocratic feeling as you examine works of art inside a beautiful villa surrounded by lush trees.
Bottega Museum of Wood Art (Museo Bottega della Tarsia Lignea)
Sorrento’s history as a center for wood art (especially inlay design, known in Italian as Intarsio) dates back to the 18th century. The works of local artists and craftsmen began to be published all over the world, and the city became a household name in the field (in addition to its ceramic and embroidery works). This museum contains an impressive collection of furniture and other items designed in this style, by the greatest artists in the field. Items from the collection of Alessandro Fiorentino (Alessandro Fiorentino), one of the best-known artists in the field, can be purchased in the museum’s book and souvenir shop.
Besides the items that present the art in wood, another floor in the 18th-century palace where the museum is located houses a variety of paintings, writings, photos, and other documents of the city of Sorrento during the 19th century. Anyone interested in the history of the city in particular and the bay, in general, will find here a lot of information about the place.
Archaeological Museum of the Sorrento Peninsula (Museo Archeologico Territoriale della Penisola Sorrentina)
This is an extremely interesting museum for any archeology and history buff, as it documents a long period of settlement on Sorrento’s fertile coastal strip. The exhibits at the site were brought to it from many archaeological excavations conducted in the area, and include items from the pre-historic periods to the Roman Empire period (that is, until the end of the fifth century AD).
Like any museum worthy of its name in Italy, the Archaeological Museum is surely housed in a beautiful neoclassical villa from the nineteenth century. Even before entering the museum itself (or after visiting it), you can visit the park of the villa with paved paths and palm trees and others, from which you can see a spectacular view of Marina di Cassano (Marina di Cassano, located a little east of the center of Sorrento), Mount Vesuvius and the Gulf of Naples the whole
In the museum itself, you will find two floors, where the exhibits and the items found are arranged in chronological order. There are several important finds here as well as instructive exhibits, including visualization of Sorrento’s coastal strip in the prehistoric period and finds from the period of the ancient Gaudo culture that dominated the area until more or less 1,500 BC, finds from the Roman city of Necropolis, and more.
The Old City Walls (Antiche Mura Sorrento)
These impressive walls, which were discovered in archaeological excavations conducted in 1921, date back to the era when the Greeks ruled the place (even before the establishment of the Roman Empire). They were built in their place because this is the only part of the city, spanning about 300 meters, that is not protected by natural means (such as the sea, river channels, etc.). Although they were originally dated to the time of Augustus, the first Roman emperor, an in-depth study of the form of construction attributes the walls to the Greeks.
These walls served the city for thousands of years, until the end of the Middle Ages. After that, new walls (from the 16th century) were built there, the impressive remains of which can be seen at street level. In addition, there are two towers (Bastione di Parsano), which you can climb and watch the city from above (it is a climb of about 100 steps, but there is an elevator).
These walls probably won’t take your breath away, but this is a recommended place to visit in order to understand the historical structure of the city, on the basis of which Sorrento is built even today.
Attractions and Points of Interest in Sorrento
If you are visiting Sorrento, don’t be content with just the ancient heritage and history of the place. This is a lively and lively resort town, one that has a lot to offer beyond that. In fact, there are many who come to the place without even knowing that it is one that has an extensive historical heritage. You can go out to bars here, sail in the Gulf of Naples, swim and sunbathe on the town’s beautiful beaches and do so many other things, that you will probably find that you don’t have enough time on vacation for them all.
Piazza Tasso is the official center and the beating and vibrant heart of Sorrento. This is where all the tourists (and many of the locals) come to drink the first coffee of the morning before they leave for a day full of experiences around the city and the Bay of Naples. Here you will find everything you need to understand that you are in a tourist center. Souvenir shops, for the most part, sellers who repeatedly offer you selfie sticks, vintage carriages driven by knightly horses, and a host of other tourist attractions.
The sunny piazza is perhaps the best place to start your day in Sorrento, certainly if it includes the old town and its interesting sites. Once you get tired of the noise and bustle, you can take a leisurely stroll down the street towards the small marina (Marina Piccola) and the water’s edge, where everything is calmer.
Baths of Queen Giovanna (Bagni della Regina Giovanna)
Royal baths are always something to draw the heart, and in this case, Queen Giovanna knew how to choose locations. Of the villa itself (Villa Pollio Felice) only a few ruins remain today, which date back to the middle of the first century AD and which you can see in the area. However, most people come to the place to swim in this natural pool, which is filled with Mediterranean seawater.
The pool is at a point called the “head of Sorrento” (Punta del Capo di Sorrento), which is a hill located at the northwest end of the city, right on the water’s edge. The pool can be reached on foot (about half an hour’s walk down the hill), by boat from the city’s port, or by bus that will bring you close to it. It is separated from the great sea by a beautiful natural stone arch, which gives the place intimacy and a feeling of protection. You won’t be alone there, because this is a popular swimming site, but you can be sure that the experience of bathing here will be remembered long after you forget any other beach you’ve visited.
Dip and Sunbathe on Sorrento’s Rocky Beaches
If you prefer not to stray far from the city center, of course, there are quite a few places within Sorrento where you can get into the water, get a good tan in the caressing southern Italian sun, and drink a cold afternoon beer. The part where Sorrento is located on the Amalfi coast is rocky, so you won’t find many beaches with golden sand to spread a towel on. However, along the entire length of the city’s beach, docks have been built with sunbeds on them, which will also allow you to enter the clear water and wade in it.
Please note that many of these piers are owned by local hotels or restaurants, so you may have to be a hotel guest, or alternatively order a drink at the restaurant, in order to be granted access to the beach. In addition, if you don’t want to walk down the steep cliff from the street level to the water’s edge (there is an arranged path), you can use the elevator that will take you down to the beach and it costs one euro.
Sunset in Sorrento at the Villa Comunale or on the Terrace of the Bellevue Sirene Hotel
Facing west, the Gulf of Naples is blessed with out-of-this-world sunsets. As the evening sets and the sun inclines towards the water, a calm descends on Sorrento, and almost everyone who is there stops to enjoy the spectacular sunset that can be seen from the steep streets of the city. It is an incredibly romantic scene, and we are here to recommend two particularly spectacular locations.
The first is the observation at Villa Comunale, which is right on the water’s edge, in the center of the city. The villa is right next to the elevator, and due to its location and accessibility, it is one of the most popular points for watching the Sorrento sunset. Buy yourself a beer at one of the shops nearby before you get to the observation deck itself, and make sure you take a photo as a souvenir.
The second location is the terrace bar of the Bellevue Sirene Hotel, a beautiful five-star hotel that is also right in the city center, just a minute or two’s walk from the Villa Comunale. The rooms in the hotel itself are very expensive and stylish and can be suitable for a romantic vacation if you have the budget for it, but luckily you can go to the hotel’s bar and watch the sunset from it even without being a hotel guest, and without paying. The views from the balcony of the hotel are even more beautiful than those of the villa, the selection of drinks at the balcony bar is excellent, and the sight of the large marina, Mount Vesuvius, and the sea against the background of the sunset, you probably won’t forget.
Although it is right next to the city center, Sorrento’s large marina has its own unique atmosphere, an atmosphere of a fishing village (somewhat touristy). It is a magical place where there is not much to do, but just inhaling the smell of the boats and listening to the voices of the fishermen is worth the visit. The marina, with its colorful houses and charming old fishing boats, is a perfect place for a short afternoon. If you have already experienced the sunset from the balcony of the Bellevue Sirene Hotel, this is a quiet and peaceful place to experience the next day’s sunset, without the rush of tourists and with the silence of the ships swaying in the waters of the bay.
Valley of the Mills (Vallone dei Mulini)
The place is a kind of combination of an attraction and a historical site, and a highly recommended place to visit. It is literally two minutes’ walk from Piazza Tasso, so you shouldn’t miss it. This is a very impressive place, which gives a new perspective on the relationship between man and nature.
This narrow and steep valley is the home of a flour mill that operated there since the 13th century, due to the power of the water that flowed through it. However, in the middle of the 19th century, the central Piazza Tasso was built, the construction of which led to the blockage of the water flow into the valley. The direct result was that the mills stopped working, and they were officially abandoned in the 1940s. During the many decades that have passed since then, nature claimed back ownership of the mills. The vegetation climbs on them from all sides, and if it weren’t for the arches of the windows, one would think that this is a particularly geometric rock formation. This is a very unique place to visit in the center of a bustling city, and an experience not to be missed.
Housed in a 16th-century building, this theater underwent renovations over a decade and reopened to the public not long ago. Shows have been staged here for a hundred years, starting in 1920, when it was one of the central amusement houses of the region.
Today it can be seen in the famous musical Sorrento (Sorrento Amarcord), which is a celebration of colors, sounds, and costumes that will entertain you and enlighten you when it comes to the history and traditions of the province. The play, which is about an hour and a quarter long, is wrapped up in a complete experience. A drink is served on the balcony of the building, to the sound of live guitar and mandolin music. Actors in traditional clothing make the guests’ time pleasant, and the whole event radiates life, gaiety, and laughter. recommended.
Festivals and Cultural Events in Sorrento
Despite being a relatively small city, in Sorrento you will find a wide variety of events and festivals, both culinary and cultural, that will make your stay there even more special than usual. These events are held throughout the year, so it is recommended to check in advance what is happening in the city during your stay.
SyArt Festival for Modern Art (SyArt Sorrento Festival)
Modern art lovers, act! This young festival has been held in Sorrento for several years in the summer at the Villa Fiorentino (Villa Fiorentino), in the months of July and August (and maybe a little after) and is a complete celebration of modern art. A selection of dozens of artists come to the festival, and this is a golden opportunity to meet them. For those arriving in Sorrento on other dates, you can visit the festival’s permanent exhibition, located at SyArt Gallery, which is closer to the coast.
Sorrento Opera Festival
In the second half of the year, between October and April, Sorrento hosts its famous opera festival. The festival was held (among other things) in the beautiful Coriala Museum (see above) and is an opportunity for lovers of opera and Italian songs.
Sorrento Vintage Market
This large antique market is held in Sorrento over a number of days during the month of August and is a wonderful opportunity to browse the items on sale, and perhaps even pick up a bargain. The market was held in the beautiful and historic Piazza San Antonio (Piazza S. Antonio), very close to the Tasso Theater and Piazza Tasso.
Ravello Festival for Classical Music
This festival was not held in Sorrento itself, but in Velolo (about an hour and a half drive towards Salerno), but it is worth mentioning. First, the amazing setting in which the works are performed in its framework by orchestras, ensembles, dance groups, individual artists, and more, is one of the most beautiful you will see in your life. Second, it is one of the most successful festivals held in the Gulf of Naples during the summer months (from the end of July to September).